Monday, June 2, 2008
C.A. Upholds Dissidents’ Exclusion From S.F. Chinese Events
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The San Francisco Chinese Chamber of Commerce may exclude members of the religious group Falun Gong from participation its Chinese New Year parade and other events, the First District Court of Appeal ruled Friday.
Div. Five affirmed San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ronald Quidichay’s ruling that, although attendance at the events is open to the general public, the chamber has a First Amendment right to bar those whose political views are contrary to its own from participating as a group.
Falun Gong sued in 2006, saying the chamber had barred it from such events as the parade, the Community Street Fair, and the Flower Market Fair because it opposes the Chinese government. It also accused the chamber of supporting the persecution of Falun Gong by the Beijing regime.
The chamber responded with an anti-SLAPP motion. In a declaration accompanying the motion, a chamber director explained that to march in the parade or maintain a booth at one of the fairs, a group must show that such participation will further the chamber’s mission of promoting business in the community and Chinese culture.
Since 1971, the official explained, the chamber has specifically banned participation by groups intending to use an event as a political platform. Quidichay, granting the motion, said the court could not mandate Falun Gong’s inclusion without interfering with the chamber’s ability to communicate its own message.
The judge, however, awarded the chamber less than $30,000 of the $168,000 it sought in attorney fees and costs.
Justice Mark Simons, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the motion was properly granted. Falun Gong was unlikely to prevail on the merits, he explained, citing Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston, Inc. (1995) 515 U.S. 557, in which the court held that the Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade was an expressive event whose sponsors had a First Amendment right to bar a group from the parade for ideological reasons.
The justice distinguished cases dealing with the right to attend an event. He also distinguished Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins (1980) 447 U.S. 74, saying that case dealt with the right to engage in expressive activity, not the right to join in an expressive activity sponsored by someone else.
In an unpublished portion of the opinion, Simons said the trial judge applied the wrong legal standard in cutting the attorney fee request. The court ordered that the issue be reconsidered.
The case is U.S. Western Falun Dafa Association v. Chinese Chamber Of Commerce, A115535.
Copyright 2008, Metropolitan News Company